M’CHIGEENG—It has been a turbulent year for the leadership of the M’Chigeeng First Nation. An appeal filed with the community’s custom election code appeals committee over the version of the membership list used in the election (known as the “status quo list,” led to the results of the September 9 band election being overturned and a new election called for December 16. But a legal challenge by former Chief Linda Debassige also led to that election being put on hold following an October 29 meeting of the appeals committee.
Following negotiations between the legal teams of the M’Chigeeng Appeals Committee and Ms. Debassige, a settlement was reached that would have seen new elections taking place on April 17, 2018.
But following a December 18 community meeting held at the M’Chigeeng community complex attended by more than 150 community members, the appeals committee bowed to the will expressed in the room and decided to reinstate the chief and band councillors as elected in the September election.
“To be honest, the committee was pressured, bullied into it,” said Appeal Committee Chair Isadore Bebamash. “But I wasn’t going to stand up and argue with them in front of a community meeting.”
There were four committee members present at the meeting who listened to those voicing opinions in the meeting, which was live-streamed over the Internet to those band members who were unable to attend, some as far away as British Columbia.
A petition calling for the reinstatement of the chief and council as elected in the September 9 poll featured somewhere between 140 and 170 signatures of community members according to Debbie Debassige, one of five people who organized the community meeting. “I am not really sure how many there were as we didn’t even really count it in the end,” she said.
Former Chief Linda Debassige said that she was waiting for the official word on the committee decision before commenting too much on the issue but did say that she felt that “the committee finally listened to the people…which is what should have been done in the first place if they were following the code properly.”
There is currently a court order to hold an election in April, but Ms. Debassige said that it was her understanding that the “court order was simply adopting the minutes of settlement, which therefore can be changed.” Of course that decision could also be open to appeal by the individual who launched the original appeal, she noted.
Ms. Debassige said that she felt it was unfortunate that a member of the appeals committee felt “bullied.”
“We tried to do everything as positive and as true to our culture as possible,” she said, noting that a smudge and drumming was included in the ceremony to help bring positive energy to the proceedings. “I don’t think any of the five women involved in putting this meeting together are bullies. We are not closely associated with each other, we know each other, but we are all people who are deeply committed to our community and our people.”
Although emotions did run high at some points in the community meeting, those contacted by The Expositor said that it was generally conducted in a positive and respectful manner. It was noted by another community member that there were actually two petitions circulating in the community with slightly different wording, but that both called for the reinstatement of the elected chief and council.
During the meeting it was noted that the appeals committee itself had not completely followed the custom election code in making its determination. At the heart of the question was the band membership list generally referred to as “the status quo list” and that list was agreed upon prior to the election.
Those attending the meeting had not anticipated that the committee would be making their decision that night, but the committee members present (which represented a quorum) met off to the side and then announced that they had decided to rescind their overturning of the September 9 election.
Livestreaming had been turned off at that point, but most of those in attendance were still in the room and there were loud cheers and applause when the committee’s decision was announced.
Not everyone is expected to be happy with this latest decision, former band lawyer Susan Hare had spoken at the beginning of the meeting commending the original decision to overturn the election results.